Friday, June 22, 2018

Gerald Early lecture - some notes

Dr. Early gave a terrific talk to a packed house last Wednesday night.  There was much for us to think about and to fuel our upcoming discussions.  My notes:

Conflict for Ellison - loved and knew Negro folk music, jazz and spirituals but black schools and Tuskegee taught only classical - the 'canon' was important

Idea of Invisible Man is all about figuring out what you think rather than what people think you should think

Ellison struggled as a student at Tuskegee

Studied music under William Dawson, who pushed very hard- not a good relationship

Influenced by Morteza Sprague, chair of the English department- very canonical program - the classics

2nd book Shadow and Act dedicated to Sprague

Typical undergrad - got interested in sculpture, after studying music

New York - hangs out with Richard Wright

Hangs out in black and communist intellectual circles

Wright was the dude- he was super disciplined- he didn't just want to be a writer, he wanted to be great

Ellison was impressed by the amount of literature Wright had read

When nothing else works in the arts there's always writing!

Communists are giving black writers the chance to be published

Ellison starts IM in 1945

Portions published in 1947

IM published on April 14, 1952

National Book Award January 27,1953

a person can be paralyzed by early success

Ralph Ellisons creed:

  • To think that a writer must think about his negroness is to fall into a trap
  • Why can't writers be as concerned with quality as jazz musicians
  • I wasn't, and am not, concerned with injustice but with art

Some people do NOT like him -his biographer Rampersad, for example

What he did with Invisible Man is what he WOULD have done had he been a composer, that is, create something new, as African Americans created the new, highly technical and demanding art of jazz

Ellison felt that his role was not to be a spokesperson for the black experience

He felt that jazz musicians were the highest expression of black art

America is red,white,blue, and black - referring to the 'sloe gin and ice cream' scene in the prologue, while listening to Louis Armstrong singing 'What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue'

Themes of the novel: African Americans and their sense of alienation

Why alienation was an important theme in the 1950s

How jazz and blues were art forms that expressed alienation while combating it -The importance of the INDIVIDUAL African American experience and the fight against sociological categories and definitions

Sociology is "dogmatic and arrogant...Quick to flaunt its vaunted empiricism as Truth."

Is Invisible Man a jazz novel?

Ellison felt that black people were prisoners of sociology- Ellison hated the discipline

Is it a jazz novel - in a way, yes- in the sense that he wants to go to art to explain black people- inspired by jazz music - if I could write something as good as count Basie, for example, then I will have achieved something

No getting around that Ellison was an elitist

Please comment below to amplify these notes - there was much I missed!

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